You Should See Me in a Crown
By Leah Johnson
QUILTBAG Main Character: Yes
QUILTBAG Minor Character: Yes
POC Main Character: Yes
Bechdel Test: Yes
Summary: Liz has her focus on the future: the school of her dreams, her eventual career as a doctor, living up to her dream self. All of this hinges on a scholarship she is desperate to get. But when that scholarship falls through, Liz is reminded of another scholarship she could win. The catch? To win it, she’ll first have to be crowned prom queen in her mostly white school. As Liz’s campaign heats up, she also finds herself drawn to Mac, a new girl also running for prom queen. Liz isn’t out, and her friends are sure that if she’s outed, there’s no way she’ll win the crown or her scholarship. Liz doesn’t want to hide, but what other choice does she have?
Let’s Get A Little Deep:
This book went on my TBR pile the instant it was announced. I’ve been waiting for the release, the date of which I had memorized. I loved the premise, loved the title, loved the cover. I was sure I would also love the book, and I happened to be right. You Should See Me in a Crown has characters with a great amount of depth, a plot that is easy to get swept up in, and a romance that will make you scream into the pages of the book. When I say it was a delight to read, I mean I was smiling my way through the book. It is a refreshing, honest, compassionate read with a lot to say about authenticity.
Liz’s plot hinges on who she is vs. who she thinks she has to be. Throughout the novel, people are coming at Liz from all sides to tell her how to change herself to make herself fit the “ideal” midwestern prom queen. Her friends get her to change her clothes, her hair, her ways of expressing herself. Even when she feels uncomfortable, a part of her insists that these things must change or no one will vote for her.
One of these changes is that she must appear straight. Her friendship with one of the runners up for prom king turns into a possible romance for the gossip mill . But Liz only has eyes for Mac, the new girl with the same taste in music and a habit of riding around on skateboards. Even as Liz falls for Mac, the pressure from her friends and the school to be the “right kind” of prom queen forces her to push Mac away.
There is so much this book has to say about living an authentic life. Liz being forced to conform to white idealized standards of beauty in order to be seen as a possible prom queen is something many black, brown, and other POC face in the real world. Black women are often told to look whiter, that their hair or their clothes or their bodies are not the right kind, that they need to look more white to be lovely.
In the same way, queer people are told to hide their sexuality in order to be seen as relatable and likable. Queer women are still seen as predatory, out to turn all the straight women gay. Liz is forced to deal with societal ideas about sexuality and race.
Spoiler alert (not really): these changes do not make her happy. Instead, she finds that the lies she is putting up are ultimately harmful for herself and for her school. She chooses to push against these expectations, to fight the white supremacistideals of beauty, and to embrace what she loves about her own body and her own being.
You Should See Me in a Crown is a love letter to young black queer women. It assures them that they are absolutely perfect and beautiful the way they are. It is an uplifting, heartwarming novel that dares society to change, to accept that beauty is not exclusive to the white, straight culture. It dares to imagine a world in which young black queer women love themselves fully. It is a world that I hope we can live in.
Thanks for going a little deep with me! I post reviews every other Thursday. Did you love You Should See Me in a Crown? Consider making a donation to The Okra Project which is dedicated to providing meals and support to black trans people. You can also find me on Twitter @gwasserst! Special thanks to Yasi (@yasaminnb) for editing my posts.